Before I became an MD, practicing internal medicine in the Boston area, I was a serious tennis player. I played #1 singles on the Marquette University tennis team as a 17-year-old freshman, and even taught the game professionally for a year between college and medical school. After I left my practice of conventional medicine in the late 1990s to specialize in yoga therapy, I stopped playing tennis so I could put that time and energy into my own practice of yoga, which had become my passion. But much to my surprise, since 2019, I have returned my attention to the game — but this time with a difference. Since I quit playing, I've become deeply embodied, as yogis call it, able to feel subtleties in the body that used to elude me.
I've spent the last 27 years studying and practicing hatha yoga, which includes the physical poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation and more. For the last 25 years, I've averaged over four hours of practice per day. An essential aspect of the training has been my dedicated efforts to increase my awareness of my body — what's known medically as proprioception and interoception — as well as my mind, to be able to go deeper into my practice.
I've also spent decades honing my "vision," to be able to see what's happening in the bodies of students when they practice yoga, which it turns out applies equally well to tennis. One of my biggest surprises when I started to study Iyengar Yoga in 1995, was how the best yoga teachers were far more adept at viewing anatomical subtleties than any doctor I'd ever seen. Being able to "read" bodies has proved vital in my yoga teaching (I've been leading workshops in the US and around the world since 2002, the year I became Yoga Journal's medical editor). It's also been invaluable in my yoga therapy work. The combination of what I can now see — for example, when I watch pros like Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka play — and what I can now feel has revolutionized my understanding of the game of tennis.
When analyzing tennis strokes, I look at the body holistically, not in the reductionist manner that physicians, sport trainers and tennis coaches tend to employ. In other words, I no longer mostly focus on the actions of individual muscles and joints, as I was taught to do in medical school and yoga teacher training. What I've found even more important is how the different parts of the body work together. I'm especially interested in how the bones interact with each other and with the body's connective tissue, the fascia. These interconnections are the basis of the kinetic chain, which I call "the pranic wave," that generates the tremendous whip-like momentum that powers the modern baseline game and the modern serve. Prana is the yogic word for "life energy," analogous to chi in traditional Chinese medicine.
Based on what I've been figuring out, I have modified the way yoga is typically taught to make it better meet the needs of tennis players. For example, in standing yoga poses, I suggest always keeping the knees at least slightly bent, exactly as top pros do when they hit the ball. When twisting the torso, I advise against holding the hips rigidly in place, as many of us were taught in yoga classes. Instead, I suggest turning them subtly in the direction of the twist, which is what you want to do on groundstrokes. Rather than stay in most poses for 30 seconds or longer, as is common in modern yoga, I mostly teach gently flowing poses, where you continually move from one position to another, just as tennis players do on the court. And I often recommend tennis players skip more advanced backbends, forward bends and twisting poses — the very ones most likely to be featured on the cover of popular yoga magazines. More basic versions are kinder to the body and are all you need for the game.
We'll be exploring all of this and more in my new YouTube channel, Yoga of Tennis, and I invite you to join me when it debuts January 27th. The focus of the initial videos will be on improving posture, balance and movement by practicing specially-adapted yoga poses. Over time on the channel, I'll unfold what I call the "energetic blueprint of modern tennis," revealing the intricate patterns of movement of the arms, legs, torso and breath that power the pranic wave. The idea is to master this blueprint on your yoga mat, one step at a time using modified yoga poses that resemble shadow swings, before bringing it to your tennis game.
Yoga also has much to teach about concentration, mindfulness and dealing with emotions — the whole mental side of the game. I have studied in detail how yogic breathing can facilitate better tennis in a variety of ways, both mentally and physically, something almost every tennis enthusiast, from recreational players to touring pros, could benefit from. In addition, ancient yogis developed a tremendously-effective methodology to change bad habits into ones that serve you better (no pun intended), which forms the foundation of my step-by-step teaching approach.
While the focus in these YouTube videos will be on yoga for tennis players, I think you will discover that many of the principles and practices can benefit athletes in a variety of sports as well as performing artists like dancers, actors and musicians. The energetic blueprint of modern tennis is also fun to explore, even if you're not actively playing the game (and once you've mastered it, you'll never look at a baseball batter, a golfer hitting a drive or a downhill skier negotiating a turn in the same way again). While yogis sometimes get the reputation of being detached from the real world, make no mistake, the yoga of tennis is very much about giving its practitioners a competitive advantage over "old-school" tennis players.
This is me, in the summer of 2021, en route to winning the Gold Medal in the Vermont Senior Games, which function as the State Championships, in the 65+ division.
Welcome to the latest update of “Health Conditions Helped by Yoga (as Shown in Scientific Studies).” This all started out in 2007 with the publication of my book Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. In the “Science of Yoga” chapter, I included a list of 43 conditions that medical studies suggested yoga benefitted. The number had grown to 101 conditions when I last compiled this list in late 2016. Now it's up to 117 conditions.
The PDF contains over 40 pages of references, listing the scientific studies by condition. Embedded hyperlinks will take you to the study's abstract, or if available, to a free, full-text version of the study.
I publish these lists as a service to the yoga world. So please feel free to share this PDF with anyone you like, print it out, put it on your web page, and maybe even send a copy to your doctor!
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117 Health Conditions
Helped by Yoga
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